Food entrepreneurs and co-founders Rémy Monexant and Samentha Vixamar launched Thamy’s Kitchen in 2018 over their love for cooking while filling a need in their college town of Limbé, Haiti.
If you’ve ever had Haitian food, it might have included diri djondjon (black rice with dried mushrooms), griot (citrus-marinated fried pork shoulder), banana peze (fried plantains), pikliz (spicy pickled slaw), legim (stewed vegetables with meat) or soup joumou (pumpkin, squash, carrots and spices). Soup joumou is Haiti’s national dish eaten on Haitian Independence Day, which is also New Year’s Day. The dish signifies Haitian freedom from slavery in 1804.
Haiti has long been called The Pearl of the Antilles. Surrounded by beaches, lush vegetation and fertile land in the northwest is the city of Limbé. Limbé is also home to Thamy’s Kitchen, a catering business founded by duo Rémy Monexant and Samentha Vixamar. In Limbé, Monexant and Vixamar find pleasure in showcasing the freshest ingredients and culinary techniques of Haitian cuisine. Vixamar is clear when it comes to changing the narrative people have of Haiti. “We started Thamy’s Kitchen because we like cooking, like to improve the way we cook, we like to promote Haitian culture.”
A Love for Cooking
Before farm-to-table became a movement, Haitian cuisine was known for cooking what was in season. Runs to the market for the catch of the day, fruits, vegetables and copious amounts of greens are the order of the day at open-air markets throughout Haiti. Chefs and home cooks alike on the island nation know the value in creating dishes that celebrate the diverse produce unique to the island. That fact did not escape Monexant and Vixamar, who saw a need and filled it.
Vixamar is from Cap-Haïtien, a region in the northwestern part of the island-nation. She is studying agriculture at Christian University of North Haiti (UCNH) and will graduate this fall. “I grew up cooking for my family using Haitian spices and cooking traditions I learned from my mother,” says Vixamar. Her and Monexant’s love for cooking began before they met and has allowed them to serve clients worldwide.
“My mom taught me how to cook. My mom said she wanted me to learn this skill as I grew up and moved away to university,” says Monexant. He recalls his mom cleaning the produce, chopping the herbs and vegetables and adding salt—cooking from memory never following a recipe. He absorbed these skills and honed them when he enrolled in culinary school. “When you attend culinary school, you need to have a recipe to follow in order to get the desired results; that’s really important,” says Monexant.
Monexant is a native of Gonaïve and is a double major student in fine arts and education. He also received training in small business development and culinary arts. Their story is based on their passion for cooking. “Thamy’s Kitchen is a merge between both our names, Rémy and Samentha. Our focus is providing the best quality of food and our motto is ‘The taste of serving you, to your taste’ and we put an emphasis in serving our customers to their taste,” says Monexant.
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Catering in Limbé
Before the pandemic, their largest client was Christian University of North Haiti. Their debut at the school’s Gastronomic Fair was a success and inspired Monexant and Vixamar to become caterers. At the event, Monexant and Vixamar prepared soup joumou (pumpkin soup) and paired it with tamarind juice. Praises followed from university officials and students.
Thamy’s Kitchen serves clientele from the U.S., Europe and Africa. “We were awarded the Creativity Prize by Christian University of North Haiti in 2019 for our work as caterers in Limbé.” After receiving this award, Monexant and Vixamar enrolled in culinary school last year at Maison Ménagère Kenania in Cap-Haïtien. To keep costs down while they operated Thamy’s Kitchen, Vixamar used herbs and produce grown in her home garden. The industrious duo uses their skills to further the narrative of Haitian ingenuity when it comes to business acumen and not compromising flavor and healthy cooking.
A Taste of Haiti
Vixamar and Monexant are keenly aware of the disparaging stereotypes Haiti is associated with and channel their creativity in the work they do with Thamy’s Kitchen to increase more awareness about Haitian cuisine. “We try to do something positive to impact our community and our country,” says Vixamar.
Mentorship has helped Thamy’s Kitchen secure clients in its first two years of business. The support from the community in Limbé as well as from Christian University of North Haiti and the student body has encouraged the business partners. “We want to improve our services and to be better,” says Vixamar. With the community and their families behind them, Monexant and Vixamar are hopeful for the future. One of the school’s professors, Henri Claude Telusma, has been Monexant and Vixamar’s biggest supporter.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Thamy’s Kitchen
Monexant and Vixamar are coping the best way they can as business owners and are strategizing to stay ahead of the pandemic as restrictions ease in Haiti. “COVID-19 impacted our business because we can’t organize parties because everyone is home now in quarantine. We are waiting until it’s safe to resume our services,” says Vixamar. Their next goal is to offer delivery service in the interim to their clients.
“After the spread of COVID-19 in Haiti, the government closed all the institutions — restaurants and schools — so that we can protect ourselves. Our business has been closed for over three months. That has had a lot of impact on our business. Not only our business but all businesses in Haiti. We are separated from our team, so we use video conferencing to plan on how we’ll be able to restart after the COVID-19. We meet weekly,” says Monexant. Thamy’s Kitchen utilizes social media to stay in touch with their online community as they navigate this reality.
What’s Next For the Duo
Eager to get back in the kitchen, Monexant and Vixamar are focused on completing their studies this fall and continuing to find ways to share their love of Haiti by inspiring others. The pair hopes they can be an example to motivate others to fulfill their dreams. “I would like to tell other entrepreneurs to never cease to create because the world has a lot of needs and a lot of problems that should be resolved,” says Monexant. His enthusiasm along with Vixamar’s for Thamy’s Kitchen and what it will accomplish keeps them motivated no matter the obstacles that arise. “We are encouraged to continue in our mission as caterers,” says Monexant.
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Monexant and Vixamar have plans to attend Gout et Saveurs Lakay (Haiti Food & Spirits Festival), the largest gastronomic event in Haiti annually in September in 2021. The festival attracts Haitian and international chefs in the industry to share their knowledge. The goal is to use locally grown ingredients to promote Haitian gastronomy on a global level.
The ambitious couple also plans to expand Thamy’s Kitchen from a catering company to a fully operating farm-to-table restaurant with branded spices and to showcase the best Haiti has to offer.